What it Takes to Build a Great Team

Friday, May 24, 2013

Manoj’s class last Friday was very interesting. I am learning new and fascinating insights about what it takes to be an effective trainer.

At the beginning of the class, Manoj spoke about what would constitute success of any training programme.  A good training programme should inform, entertain, inspire and transform.

He then spoke about the two types of Instruction. One is direct or teacher centred and the other is Indirect Instruction which is student centred.

In the second type, participants learn by observing, investigating, drawing conclusions from available data etc. Here, the trainer is only a facilitator and a resource person, staying in the background and encouraging the participants to create their own learning and meaning. We had a demonstration of this type of learning.

The participants were divided into four groups of 4 or 5 members each and they were given the task of drawing their conclusion and understanding of what it takes to build a great team, based on 5 fascinating case studies. Here are the case studies:

1. Jerry Sternin was asked by a half-serious Vietnamese government to find a solution to the very vexing and serious problem of malnutrition among children in villages. He was given 6 months to solve the problem. He asked Vietnamese women from 4 villages to scout for healthy children despite the extreme poverty. They were surprised to observe that some children, despite poverty were healthy unlike the rest of the children. They were the healthy, positive deviants.  They were then encouraged to find out the practices that made those children healthy. The discovery was that most of the healthy children were fed an inexpensive and easily available mix of rice, crabs, shrimps and sweet-potato greens. Instead of imparting this knowledge, Sternin and his group attempted to change the behaviour of the mothers in the villages of Vietnam. They were successful and soon enough 2.5 million children passed the threshold from undernourishment to health.

Lessons: Involve the stake holders. Listen. Delegate responsibility. Ask the right questions. Find solutions within the culture of an organisation or country.  

2. Alexandre Behring was appointed as the CEO of a cash strapped Railway company in Brazil – America Latina Logistica, from1998 through 2004. No one gave this company, ALL  even half a chance of competing against the giants in the same line of business. Once on the mantle, Alexandre had his priorities absolutely clear.

  1. The company had to make money in the short term.
  2. The best solutions would be those where the least amount would be spent.
  3. Recycling would be a way of life – ensuring minimum cash outflows.
This company is now the largest in this segment, in Latin America.
Lessons: Clarity of actions is very critical. Hard decisions are sometimes necessary. There are trying times when team members have to just follow, once clear cut policies are laid out. 

3. Joe Stegner saved his company millions of dollars. All that he did was to heap on the conference table in his company board room, the 424 types of used gloves of the company employees. He did not forget to attach the price tag – ranging from $5.00 to $ 17 for these gloves. Though Joe did not utter a word, the board members got the message about the mindless wastage of money only on one item.

Lessons: Sometimes, problems are so obvious they escape one’s attention. Freshness of approach is necessary to identify problems. It is possible to define and identify pressing issues without making winding speeches.

4. Crystal Jones was a first grade teacher who taught her young children to dream big. She believed in the capacity of her young students to pass class I exams in 6 months and  class II exams at the end of 1 year. Her belief in them rubbed off on the students and they too thought BIG about themselves – as scholars.

Lessons: Provide people meaningful goals even if they are Big. They will find a way to achieve them. Investing faith in people in organisations or elsewhere, turn into self-fulfilling prophesies. People very often become what their leaders think they will.

5. The Founding Fathers of the US– Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others did not concern themselves with who was to occupy positions of power, but rather, what vision and processes would guide the country to emerge as prosperous and powerful. The Americans zealously uphold and cherish the moral standards and principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence – We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

The above declaration and the simple and effective processes and laws that were laid down by the Founding Fathers, have served as the beacon guiding several generations of Americans to march into the future with confidence and happiness.

 Lesson: Vision is the most important component for an individual, organization or even for a country. Well crafted and articulated vision can galvanize people into meaningful actions. Processes in alignment with the vision are also extremely important for growth and evolution.

What stands out in all these case studies is the power of the ONE or a driven individual to energize organizations. The right leader with the right set of values can impact thousands and at times millions of people. Such people are the fulcrum around whom momentous changes and progress happen.

In all these cases, leaders demonstrated to their followers how to think out of the box. And to operate from new, fresh paradigms – to tackle seemingly insurmountable problems and move into the future courageously.

When team members are given opportunities to contribute their part and interpretations in the unfolding stories of organizations, a force much bigger than the sum of their parts begin to galvanize the teams and the organizations as a result.

The case studies also demonstrate another truth – that when teams strive toward causes which are larger than themselves, a new energy take possession over them and they get into the vortex of creation.

These are some of the ideas Param and I can use in our 3 hour presentation scheduled in June on precisely this very same topic.

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